10 April 2014 Volume :2 Issue :18

United States Professor Graduates With PhD From UKZN

United States Professor Graduates With PhD From UKZN
Professor Michael Hoffman of the United States graduated from UKZN with a PhD in Behavioural Medicine.

Professor Michael Hoffman of the Universities of Florida and Central Florida in the United States graduated from UKZN’s College of Health Sciences with a PhD in Behavioural Medicine.

The aim of his study was to establish the significance of higher cortical function impairment in people suffering strokes.  It was titled: “Frontal Network Syndrome Testing: A Hierarchical and Time Orientated Approach”.

‘The thesis involved testing what is our highest human function - our executive brain or frontal networks,’ said Hoffman. ‘This has barely been done so far, probably because of complexity and because we have not had suitable tests up until now. However, the advent of overwhelming dementia worldwide necessitates an approach that also needs to be practical, relatively quick and easy to do.’

Hoffman devised a system for diagnosis of the three most common dementia syndromes - cognitive vascular disorders (CVD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and frontotemporal lobe disorders (FTLD). ‘Modern neuro-imaging helps a great deal and complements this relatively rapid yet accurate bedside testing of the frontal lobes, which was the main focus.’ Through an array of methods such as word list generation, five word memory testing and PET brain imaging, this helped distinguish the three most common dementia subtypes in patients.’

The thesis also incorporated research papers that have been focusing on the problem for about 20 years and concluded in a “tiered hierarchical approach” depending on the patient’s ability to participate and the severity of disease one is faced with. It was found that cognitive syndrome (CS) and frontal network syndrome (FNS) were common in stroke patients.

Hoffman explains that his next focus, with the help of his PhD, is a continuation of the study of frontal network function specifically into the origins and evolutionary underpinnings of spirituality, shamanism and religion and how they are affected by brain diseases such as dementia. This work includes a preview of a seminal work by a South African Lewis Williams who wrote the book The Mind in the Cave.

Hoffman is a Professor in Neurology at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida.

Married with two children, he is currently writing a book on brain health called Brain Beat.

‘My roots in South Africa are my best memories and I would like to be more involved with UKZN and Wits where I studied to give back to those who taught me in the first place,’ he added.

-         Zakia Jeewa

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